When your main character does things --even brags about them (continually)--
that many viewers would condemn as superficial, repugnant, and far too full
of negative character traits to connect to emotionally, you have to come up
with something attractive to hold you for the requisite 102 minutes.
Director Charles Shyer ("The
Affair of the Necklace," "Father of the Bride") was well-advised to keep
it to that length and even wiser to cast an actor who could fill the screen
with the compensatory ingredient: charm.
Jude Law, as deep and resourceful an actor as there is on the screen these
days, turns it on without let up and it perfectly fits the shallowness of his
man, Alfie. The actor's accomplishment, however, is even greater. Based on
a 1996 play and movie starring Michael Caine, Law's real task was to justify a
remake. Can he pull off the same feat that Caine did in a film that
solidified his fellow Englishman's earlier hold on world attention and
subsequent stardom? Law can.
Not that he needs to. His story is an oft-repeated one in the annals of
great acting. He amply demonstrated his gifts as long ago as 1999 with his
Dickie Greenleaf character in "The
Talented Mr. Ripley." But, those who recognized Law's talent who expected
quick notice by the shakers and deal makers of Hollywood had years to wait
for a noticeable reappearance. This superb actor wasn't cast in anything of
wide importance for two years. It was like he couldn't get a token to ride
the bus in Hollywood. But when he added his extradinary juice to Gigolo Joe
in Spielberg's "Artificial Intelligence:
AI" it paid off. Law was the best part of that film.
But, then, only one film for Law in 2002? It's close to unbelievable, but
when a great actor is called upon, he delivers. In "Road to Perdition," as the
dangerously scary Harlen Maguire, he came close to giving me nightmares.
Insidious and evil intelligence lay behind that role, and however bubbly his
Alfie might be, Harlen Maguire remains a powerful reminder of Law's lurking
Now, he's as hot as a Santa Ana wind and is all over the place: "Cold Mountain," "I Heart Huckabees," "Sky Captain and the World of
Tomorrow," to name his last 3 in release. Backed up for later release we
can look forward to "Closer,", Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate
Events," and "The Aviator," with even more in pre-production. He has
arrived, and he is, for now, Alfie Elkins.
As said, the assignment here is charm, if the picture is going to work at
all. Well, let me add the fascination of a sexually unscrupulous bachelor
who doesn't care much for sleeping alone (though when the picture opens he's,
indeed, in bed all by himself). Add to that the device of his addressing the
audience as though it were an unseen confidant and co-conspirator. Alfie
shares his every thought, fear and anxiety with us, straight into the camera.
What he seems to be saying as a subtext is, "hang in, don't condemn me if I
can't commit to a relationship, however wonderful the girl in my life. Okay,
I'm a womanizer, but I am looking for some meaning in that. And, if I don't
seem to change to a better character with sensitivities that you can admire,
if the disappointments that I bring on myself (and which occasionally affect
others) don't transition me to somebody you can respect, If I fail to evoke
your sympathy, at least bear with me (and you women can bare with me) long
enough that I might amuse you with my utter good looks and captivating
If that's what he's asking, he's got it. But, not a whole lot more. The
amusement becomes strained.
The objects of his loose affections and easy conquests include single-mother
Julie (Marisa Tomei), loosely experimental Lonette (Nia Long), flashy Nicki
with a body to sink a thousand ships (Sienna Miller) but without the
substance to match, rich older woman (sensationally slimmed down and
sexed-up Susan Sarandon) who plays the Alfie game better than he does, and
other notables and rejects.
In all, the attraction here is the guy at center screen and his ability to
make a flawed and single dimensional character engaging. Charm isn't a
substitute for emotional nuance, but the trick pulled off here to justify the
remake is the power of seduction in the performance. It's one that should be
seen in the general context of Law's growing portfolio and its enviable
diversity which, based on what he's done so far, is just beginning to emerge
into the amazing. He's an actor's actor and the only thing that will keep
him from award recognition this year or next is competition with himself.
~~ The Filmiliar Cineaste